Ever find yourself in need of a freelancer or consultant? Someone who specializes in whatever the weak link is in your operations or marketing? The last thing you want to do is work yourself up into a lather and waste time trying to figure out how to configure a SQL database when you could be making and shipping the stuff that actually generates revenue.
The decision to hire someone on the outside doesn’t come easy to many organizations (sometimes they even toss out RFPs, blech!). There may be concerns about sharing proprietary information or expense. There could also be skepticism about achieving results or a general reluctance to work through the time-consuming screening and ramp-up phases. Real or imagined, you might think that the company that overcomes these issues to move ahead with outside counsel would really put resources into making their outsourced project rock, right?
Wrong. Some of the organizations engaging a contractor or consultant sabotage their project before it even leaves the ground. Put in direct contact with a skilled, reputable consultant, some companies will fail to value research and preparation. They’ll try to phone it in.
Phoning a project in doesn’t work. Committing to your project does.
Scenario: We’re just not that committed
Imagine receiving an email like this: “Sharon Walker from AdFed referred me to you. She said you were great at [insert consultant specialty here]. Might you be able to help us? We need a [insert final work product here] and we’re anxious to get started. Thanks, John Durham, Executive Director of Company X”
In this scenario, the contractor phoned John Durham after receiving the email. He explained that his standard process included an introductory meeting to define needs and dependencies, discuss roles and responsibilities, commit to binding agreements, and receive a deposit. He explained that following the administrative meeting, they should schedule a project kick-off meeting to identify goals and explain standard operating procedures (“We’ll give you a logon to Redmine so you can view progress.”) and work style (“Please funnel final group comments to me via Basecamp.”). A project brief, completed by the project owner, will ensure the exchange of expectations and critical data by both parties.
Now imagine the social media consultant’s surprise when, after outlining his thorough and professional process, he was met with, “Yes, well what I have here should do you fine. I’ll forward some emails to you from a similar project handled by our sister organization. That should give you enough to go on. When can you get started?” Huh? (**mock scenario**)
When we give ourselves a “pass” from unsexy due diligence no one in the board room will ever come to fully appreciate, much less see – well, then, we’re just not that committed. We can’t Slim*Quik our way to a rawking project.
Great ideas are born from meaty conversations. These conversations also reveal valuable cues about each party – the kind of stuff we draw on when it’s time for instinctive decisions and tactical choices. We need rapport-building dialogue (which, not incidentally, helps build mutual trust and empathy). Skipping vital pieces pushes the burden of discovery off to the consultant (even the best consultants won’t know the minutia or backstory possibly critical to the project). This scenario leaves the responsibility of success squarely in the consultant’s lap. The company had no skin in the game. The consultant hasn’t been set up for success. In the end, there’ll be finger-pointing instead of a beautiful solution that saves time/improves performance/helps customers.
Lesson: Think of working with a consultant, contractor or freelancer as a temporary joint venture. When you each stake currencies – reputations, revenue, potential for future earnings – and collaboratively work toward outcomes (a road sure to be wrought with a pothole or two; see rapport-building dialogue referenced above) you’ll find that the professional you hired really wants to exceed your expectations. That can happen when you share knowledge, communicate openly, and proceed with brutal self-awareness.
Other ways to sabotage your project before it ever leaves the ground:
• Demonstrating excessive control in an attempt to establish dominance or reach outcomes. Instead, take advantage of the fresh perspective you hired, and see what new path they recommend you consider. Serf-to-master mentality doesn’t end up well for anyone.
• Marginalizing the efforts of consultants through thoughts or actions. If you find yourself making sweeping statements like “We could do that in a half hour” ask yourself, “Why haven’t we?”
• Committee-think. Nothing is gained when a solution is compromised by excessive group feedback. Appealing to everyone is the kiss of death. Revisit your objectives and goals, evaluate them with a small cross-functional group. Leave the subjective and immaterial out of the decision-making.
Commit to your project – and your own success – the next time you hire a contractor.
- Get Your Money’s Worth from Consultants (blogs.hbr.org)
- Do You Need a Full-Time, Contractor or Outsourced Help? (entrepreneur.com)